Staying west as we continue our preview where this division could come down to two crosstown rivals. Here’s the Pac 12 South:
We start in Los Angeles, where preseason All-American and Heisman candidate Josh Rosen threw for 23 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. The Bruins move to a traditional pro-style offense to play more to Rosen’s strengths. There’s depth in the backfield with Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks. They must rebuild their receiving corps as four of the top five receivers from last year have departed.
Preseason All-American defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes returns from a torn ACL, he should be a force in the interior. Linebackers Jaylon Brown, who was the team’s leading tackler, and Deon Hollins will help out up front. Cornerbacks Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, lead a secondary that led the conference in pass defense last season.
They host Stanford, Arizona, Utah and USC. They must go Texas A&M, BYU, Arizona State, Washington State, and California.
We stay in L.A. as we go crosstown where Clay Helton takes over at the helm as head coach. Max Browne will start at quarterback. Helton has talent and experience on offense including All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith- Schuster. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones are one of the best backfield tandems in the nation.
Clancy Pendergast returns to Southern Cal as defensive coordinator. Preseason All-American linebacker Cameron Smith, preseason all-Pac 12 lineman Rasheem Green and tackle Kenny Biglow lead a potentially explosive defense. Preseason all-Pac 12 cornerback Adoree Jackson is not only one of the best corners in the conference but expect to be used at wide receiver as well.
The Trojans have a tough schedule, they start the season against Alabama in Arlington. They must face Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Washington and UCLA on the road. They play Arizona State, Cal and Notre Dame at home.
Next up Salt Lake City, where one team that can make it a three team race in the division is the Utah Utes. Travis Wilson has graduated, so head coach Kyle Whittingham could do the co-starter route at quarterback with junior college transfer Troy Williams and freshman Tyler Huntley. Devontae Booker’s in the NFL now, but preseason all-Pac 12 running back Joe Williams proved to be a productive replacement in Booker’s absence last season. The Utes will have a veteran offensive line led by preseason all-Pac 12 right tackle J.J Dielman.
The defense could be one of the best in the Pac 12. Preseason All-American tackle Lowell Lotulelei leads a front seven that led the conference in rush defense last season. Preseason all-Pac 12 safety Marcus Williams leads a secondary that caught 22 interceptions last year.
They host BYU, USC, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon. They face California and Arizona State on the road.
The Rest of the Pac 12
In Tempe, the Arizona State Sun Devils will try to rebound from a very disappointing 6-7 2015 season. They lose seven starters including quarterback Mike Bercovici and wide receiver D.J. Foster. The one thing that the Sun Devils do have a lot of—running backs including the tandem of preseason all-Pac 12s Demario Richard, who became the 19th back in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards, and Kalen Ballage. Wide receivers Tim White and Cameron Smith lead a capable corps. Despite finishing at the top in quarterback sacks and tackles for a loss, the defense still gave up an average of little over 33 points a game last season. Still, guys like preseason all-Pac 12 defensive end JoJo Wicker has all-conference talent and is just a sophomore. Tackle Tashon Smallwood brings a veteran presence and safety Kareem Orr led the conference in interceptions.
Meanwhile in Tucson, there’s a lot of uncertainty with head coach Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona Wildcats. Both quarterback Anu Solomon and preseason all-Pac 12 running back Nick Wilson have struggled with injuries. Preseason all-Pac 12 receiver Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey lead a veteran but unproven corps. Preseason all-Pac 12 linebacker Paul Magloire and tackle Sani Fuimaono will be playing under a new defensive scheme. Also, the Wildcats will be playing with heavy hearts after the sudden passing of center Nick Hemmila last month.
Finally in Boulder, where the Colorado Buffaloes will try to improve, if at the very least a little. After losing out on graduate transfer Davis Webb, who went to Cal, and Sefo Liufau still recovering from a Lisfranc injury, the Buffs need a quarterback. Head coach Mike MacIntyre must rely on underclassmen and junior college transfers on offense. They do have a veteran defense led by lineman Josh Tupou, linebacker Derek McCartney and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
That’s it for the Pac 12 South, next I’ll give some non-power 5 teams to watch.